In a world recently recovering from the greatest war in its history, an unlikely group of people are pulled together to prevent another one...a bigger one...
The Ties That Bind
Chapter 1: Small Town Blues
A teenage girl trudged glumly through the village, alone on the streets in the hot midday summer sun. She sighed as she finished unbuttoning her sleeveless crimson top shirt that stopped a little bit above her belt, in an attempt by the maker to make the tight clothes more comfortable to the wearer. Even that wasn't enough ventilation in the middle of summer though, and so the unbuttoning.
As she walked on, she started tugging at the tight black silken tank top she wore as an undergarment and was now soaking wet with sweat. She repeated the motion a few more times, trying to cool herself and dry the sweat on her chest. She then adjusted the leather straps that crossed over her torso so as to be even more comfortable. She wore those straps to carry a pair of twin, curved daggers, her personal weapons, on her back with the hilts sticking out a bit over her shoulders for easy reaching.
Maybe she should've gone home and taken a bath instead, considering the sweat was already starting to make her smell a bit. But then again, her younger brother would be there, annoying her out of enjoying a relaxing bath by insisting on his rights to 'equal tub usage', as he termed it.
So here she was, stuck wandering aimlessly, or almost aimlessly, through town, in search of the few close friends she'd made in the year since she and her dad had moved here to take care of Lawrence. Yes...the same annoying younger cousin...and yet she could never do anything mean to him, not after her first meeting with him during her uncle and his father's funeral. The memory of seeing him so distraught always popped into her mind every time she got mad at him and it always stopped her in her tracks.
And yes...despite her martial appearance, she had always been a sensitive and passionate person. In fact, her father had always said that the flaw in her fighting style was that she always let her emotions get the better of her. The problem was, most of these conservative rural folk couldn't exactly get over the image of a warrior woman enough to talk to her much. Besides, most of the boys didn't like the idea of hanging out with a girl who could kick their ass without breaking a sweat, no matter how pretty she was. They deemed her a tomboy and that was that.
Well...she wasn't really that good, but everybody thought she was because she was pretty much the second best fighter in the village (after dear old dad, of course) due to that horrendous war five years ago that depopulated whole nations, and the village of course of even the decent fighters. So long ago yet...she stopped as her green eyes went a bit misty. That war...had killed...
"Sara! Hey, what happened to you!? You're sweating like a pig." called a voice from behind her, which caused her to hastily wipe her eyes, turn around awkwardly, causing the bow and small quiver of arrow that hung at her waist to rustle noisily, and smile weakly. But her smile got bigger as she noticed it was her close friend, Simone.
"What happened to me? Heh...a case of nerves, unruly militiamen, visiting dignitaries and the summer sun, that's what," she joked, trying to summarize her rough day in a few short and seemingly unconnected reasons.
"Oh, you mean you screwed up and the militia gave you a rough time in that formal salute you had to run instead of your dad, coz he's sick, for that visiting noble down from Heirhurst?" asked Simone in an innocent voice, leaving Sara gaping as she tried to figure out how her friend had given a summary of her bad day.
After a few moments of silence, Simone continued, "Oh...don't worry...My master hasn't taught me mind-reading or anything. It's just that Lawrence was in here the other day trying to ask me what the best way was to make you 'die from embarrassment', his words, not mine, during that formal affair."
"What!? You mean he planned that!? Why didn't you tell me!?" pouted Sara as she put her hands on her hips and glared at Simone.
"Well...the old mage dragged me out right after for night lessons. He says I'm getting lazy these days, hanging out with you and Erika too much instead of studying. Says I'll never be a decent spellcaster if I slack off, especially since I started learning late," replied Simone sheepishly as she backed off the fiery younger woman.
She wasn't the type who liked violence, despite being from the barbaric Incandi far to the south. Her being an Incandi wasn't really helpful to promoting a good friendship either, with her dark skin, long curly hair and short stature. She wasn't ugly, but she wasn't that pretty either.
Sara shook her head anxiously, "Right...heh...My dad is SO gonna kill me later on...And it wasn't even my fault. Why didn't you tell me, Simone? Why?" she demanded.
Before Simone could answer, someone else did for her, "Coz' she gave me that itching powder, Sara. Wouldn't wanna waste it by spoiling the surprise, would she?'
Sara turned around, boiling mad. She knew who it was...Lawrence. She glared at him and drew her daggers swiftly, doing a slash towards him that she intended to stop right in front him to make him back off. Yet it clanged into something.
Lawrence's military issue sword clanged against her dagger. He was actually picking a fight with her, and that surprised Sara. Usually, he would scream and beg for mercy before she even attacked him, but not today. She then kicked him, aiming for his gut, but pain shot through her already tired limb as it clanged against the solid steel of her cousin's shield.
She stepped back a bit, regaining her balance from the awkward kick. This lesson was going to take longer than she expected. She readied her daggers and charged him once more.
Her first strike was blocked by the sword once more, but she pinned it with her other dagger and then spun, causing Lawrence to let go of the larger blade instead of getting his hand twisted. So now he was disarmed, or she thought he was, until she stopped her spin right in front of him and received a hard knock to her right cheek from the boss of his shield.
She stumbled back, even more astonished. Whenever they had one of this little 'fights', he'd never hit her. It wasn't that he didn't have the ability. He was just too scared to even try. Oh well...maybe he was just growing up...but not yet grown up enough...
She faked another charged at him, and now, without a true offensive weapon, he shut his eyes in fear and raised his shield, hoping to block whatever she would do to him. But instead of attacking head on, she jumped and did a flip in the air, landing right behind him and putting one of her daggers against his neck.
She sighed and lowered her dagger as he dropped his shield and said, "Alright, I give. And yeah, I'm gonna tell Uncle the real story. It was just a bit of harmless fun. Besides, it was funny to see you try to stand the itching and screwing up all the commands because you were too concentrated on maintaining your own poise. He he...'REEEEAR Face!"...I couldn't believe you actually shouted that."
Simone giggled, leaning on her apprentice's staff, behind them and Sara looked at her fiercely, causing her to stop and complain, "What!? I gave him the powder because he paid. And I didn't have a legitimate reason for turning him down. I don't own the potion store, ya know. I just run it for my master and the little brat happened to time his purchase right when the old man was inspecting how well I was running it."
Lawrence then picked up his sword and started walking away. Sara was about to demand where he was going when he said, "Well, I gotta return this to the armoury. I figured I might have a chance against you, since all this stuff's newly made and really tough. After that, and a little talk with Uncle, I'm off to the florist's...heh heh..."
Sara, sheathing her daggers and rubbing her cheek, now added to the list of sore parts on her body, most of which were from the earlier preliminary punishment her dad had given her for screwing up, replied slowly, "Oh...so that's why you actually fought this time. But why would you be...Wait, I thought you said she'd usually be asleep around this time, Lover boy. That's why I didn't head her way."
"From what I know of her schedule, she should be waking up by the time I get to her place from the armoury. Now mind your own 'crush'-ness, Sara," Lawrence demanded and then strutted off.
"What crush?" asked Sara, a bit confused. She didn't know what he was talking about when it came to her crush. As far as she knew, she wasn't crushing on anybody in this village, but Lawrence was openly crushing on the other of her two close friends, Erika.
She was a pretty girl, younger than Sara by a year, a sandy blonde with a cute ponytail, a nice figure and a cheery disposition. Plus, she was a talented woman, who could paint and play some of the most stirring tunes you've ever heard on a flute. And finally, she ran the flower shop for her ailing grandmother, the flower shop that was probably one of the few reasons the small village of Milton's Vale was even on the map of Uspure.
"Heh...well, at least Lawrence is open about it," teased Simone.
"What are you talking about!? I've never crushed on anyone!' Sara demanded.
"Temper, temper," Simone replied, calming her younger friend down and then continuing, "C'mon, Sara. The way you've been acting around him, it's so obvious. Maybe it's coz' you just don't notice it yourself."
"Around who?" Sara asked, scratching the back of her head, and then finally deciding to pull off the red headband that covered most of her forehead and held her hair back in place so as not to constrict her vision in combat. It was soaking wet with sweat as well and was starting to get rather itchy.
Simone waited for her to finish before simply saying, "Braxton..."
Braxton...the blacksmith. The twenty-one year old big, handsome yet grim blacksmith from the frozen wastes and rocky islands of wild Acadia to the far north who'd lived here for three years and probably was the only guy who wasn't that surprised to see Sara's fighting ability despite being a woman. And the more Sara thought about it, the more Sara realized that her cousin's and friend's words were true.
She stuttered, blushing hard, only now realizing all the flirting she'd unconsciously done whenever they'd met, "But...but...but...Alright...I think I actually am crushing on him,"
Simone nodded, "Yes, especially when you put on those really short red shorts and really tight short-sleeved white top and pretended to be excited watching him make a farmer's scythe just to be able to chat with him for hours...And I don't think he appreciated it too..."
"Really? I did that? I'm crushing on him that bad?" asked Sara.
"Yes, that bad and then some," Simone nodded once more, "But anyways, where do you want to go now?"
Sara started shaking her head to let her hair loosen up and dry faster and then after a bit of thought she replied, "I dunno...Let's just head on down this way and see..." but Simone cut her off.
She interrupted, exasperated, "There you go again...The only thing left down this road is the pathway up to the blacksmith, ya know. What do you like about him anyways?"
"He's handsome, he's funny when he wants to be funny, he's strong and he's probably the only guy here near my age who can beat me in a fight, although he's rarely rowdy so I've never seen him in one...Plus, he's got blue eyes! Very few Uspurians have blue eyes but he's from another land so that ain't the case...and I love blue eyes..." she said, listing of the details using her fingers and blushing after her last statement.
"Near your age? He's four years older than you! Heh...Have you even wondered what your dad, a patriotic Uspurian retired general, now village militia commander, would think about you marrying a foreigner?" asked Simone at which Sara almost laughed.
"He can't complain. He was married to one." Sara answered, smiling. Simone raised one eyebrow, finding out something new about her friend. Sara continued, "It doesn't come out much except for my eyes and my nose but I am half Wuhanese. My mom was from over there in the far eastern regions of that place. Come to think of it, I never did ask how my mom and dad had met. Must be on one of his earlier campaigns."
Simone nodded, "Okay then...So are we going ahead and I'm gonna get to watch you do something very girly again around 'Brax-y Boy'?"
Sara said indignantly, "I don't act very girly around him!"
"Yes, you do. Braxton is the only person who can get you to not be a tomboy." Simone insisted.
Sara crossed her arms and pouted, "Fine! If you're going to just irritate me about it, then never mind. I'm going back home. Lawrence is out trying to catch Erika's eye anyways so I can stick myself in a refreshing bath for quite some time without disturbance. Besides, I feel too sweaty to visit him right now."
Simone smiled, "Whatever you say, Sara. Hey, I'll come with you. I'll just go into the shop and get some medicine your father wanted. He said to take it to him as soon as I can and my master should be done by now," and then ran off into the potions store her master owned.
After a minute, she was back with a small parcel and said, "Well, thanks for waiting. Let's get going Sara. You better get a change of clothes or you might get sick with all that sweat drying up. What did your dad make you do anyway?"
"I don't wanna talk about it..." Sara sighed exhaustedly as she realized her legs still felt like iron weights now that she'd started walking once more.
"Okay then...as you wish..." smiled Simone as the two walked on.